Spatial & Temporal monitoring of Bonaire’s near-shore water quality

Internship report

Although Bonaire’s waters harbours one of the richest reefs of the Caribbean, it has not evaded the unprecedented global decline of these unique and precious systems. Recent research suggests a significant impact of local stressors on coral reef functioning. Future intensification of Bonaire's coastal activities may increase run-off, sedimentation, and eutrophication, which, potentially could induce detrimental changes to the system. However, identifying adverse effects of for example nutrient run-off on coral reefs in field conditions remains challenging. Nevertheless, a new local monitoring infrastructure may help to evaluate the risks posed by nutrient pollution by detecting the frequency and origin of harmful concentrations. We aim to create an integrated seawater quality management plan on Bonaire. For this, we measured levels and spatiotemporal variation of dissolved inorganic nutrients (NH4+, NO2-, NO3-, PO43-) and physiochemical water quality parameters (chlorophyll-a and turbidity).

Preliminary data (NOV 2021-Feb 2023) are presented of this ongoing 4-year monitoring project. Spatial water quality data from thirty-seven study sites collected from November 22nd to December 1st (2021) at 5 and 10m depth on the reef slope indicated that DIN concentration at site B12 (marina) and at the sites located in the area North of Kralendijk exceeded the 1μM threshold value set for the phase shift from coral to macroalgae-dominated coral reefs. Furthermore, geographical differences between in nutrient concentrations and relative abundance of nutrient species were found. Ammonium dominated the DIN pool in the areas Kralendijk and North of Kralendijk, whereas in the northern part of Bonaire DIN pool predominantly comprised of nitrate.

The temporal monitoring showed mean chlorophyll-a concentrations across Bonaire’s west coast approached the upper range of the safe threshold value (0.3 μg/L), indicating that Bonaire’s reefs are experiencing a chronic state of eutrophication. The data presented here of short-time span and should be considered as preliminary results. The outcome of this multi-year project, however, will provide more thorough insight spatiotemporal variation in nutrient and physiochemical water quality parameters. This data will help build scientific knowledge into both sources and resilience to external nutrient loading of coral reef ecosystems. Understanding this heterogeneity in local water quality conditions, will aid effective management, help restore reef resilience, and increase our chances of mitigating the global decline in coastal reef systems.

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